How are the mighty fallen

It was less that a year ago that General David Petraeus was the golden boy of US military strategy, the supposed genius who had turned around US fortunes in Iraq prior to the withdrawal. Members of Congress treated him as some kind of oracle whose words must be followed by even the president and competed to see who could praise him the most. Criticisms of him were treated as if they were blasphemy, as could be seen from the howls of outrage when the group put out an ad in 2007 against the Iraq war that made a bad pun on his name.

Petraeus retired with great fanfare in 2011 to become the head of the CIA but his world came tumbling down when reports of an affair emerged and he resigned in November 2012.

He was then hired as an adjunct to teach a course at CUNY in July 2013 for the princely sum of $200,000, an act that outraged practically everyone in the university. The university hastily agreed to reduce his salary to a nominal $1 but that did not mollify critics who loudly protested his presence on the campus. Since CUNY is an urban campus and he has to walk on public streets to get to class, he could not avoid confrontations, as can be seen on his first visit to the campus.

Remember that US military generals are a highly pampered lot, taken everywhere in chauffer-driven limousine motorcades with a motorcycle escort and given private staff to cater to their every need. Having to deal with the profane masses on public streets is not something they are used to. This must have been galling for Petraeus, though he maintained an admirable composure.

And the situation has not got better and his more recent visits to the campus have been plagued by street protests calling him a war criminal and demanding that he be fired that this week turned into brawls with police.

However, we should not worry that he will become destitute of he loses this teaching job. He has the military-industrial-financial complex to take care of him.


  1. David Jones says

    Nope, don’t understand. What is it about Petraeus’s service that makes you think this scoffing reasonable?

  2. hyphenman says

    Good afternoon David,

    Writing as an honorably discharged, 11-year, United States veteran receiving disability for a service connected injury, I’ll simply suggest that service does not bestow a get-out-of-jail-free card to any of us. You might examine Petraeus’ record in detail, weighing the positives against the negatives, and then provide a detailed analysis as to why you disagree with the view presented here.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  3. curcuminoid says

    This is my old school, so I wanted to bring up a couple of things:

    1. This isn’t exactly CUNY, its the Macaulay Honors College (formerly CUNY Honors), a great program which intends to continue the original ethos of City College (basically granting a high level of education at no cost to the student based on academic qualifications).

    2. The main reason MHC hired him is to get name recognition and status for the program in order to help graduates and to help get donors as the program expands. I think the public outcry was entirely unexpected.

    3. I would guess that Petraeus is looking to move past his military career with this job. He’s teaching a subject he did graduate school work in and has accepted a nominal wage. Furthermore, many students complained that his course description made it look like he was going to use students to do research he would likely use to author papers or books.

    4. Many or most MHC students weren’t happy about hiring Petraeus. Some objected to it because of what he has done, others didn’t like the reasons for hiring, and others thought if they were going to have the man teach a course it should be about something he was uniquely qualified to talk about, like US actions in the Middle East or the changing role of the military and intelligence agencies. If we wanted a course on geo-econimics, there are many more qualified teachers out there.

  4. cotton says

    This post is just dripping with unfounded contempt. MoveOn did not just make an “unfortunate pun” they called him General Betrayus. Accusing him of betraying the American people was outrageous. He’s a general, he fights wars on behalf of the US, regardless of who the president is. Secondly, I’m not going to blame anyone for trying to get paid. I would certainly never ask to be paid less than offered.

    Singham then seemed assured that Petraeus was is “galled” but then noted his “admirable composure”. Maybe the explanation was that he wasn’t galled. Singham accuses him of being pampered b/c of the privileges he had earned as a general and seeming to blame him for being a part of the military industrial complex. I’m not sure how either of those are his fault.

    Essentially, this man deserves scorn b/c:

    1.) He was a U.S. general
    2.) He accepted a job that paid a lot of money

    What an ASSHOLE, right?

  5. 2up2down2furious says

    Most obviously, Petraeus turned to James Steele to implement and oversee much of his counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. Steele was heavily involved in overseeing death squads in Latin America during the 1980s, and under Petraeus he established death squads and torture chambers in Iraq as well.

    Petraeus was also CIA director from September 2011 to November of 2012; during this window, a CIA drone strike killed a teenage civilian (who had US citizenship) in Yemen. Other abuses of drones, civilian casualties, “double taps”, etc. have been committed during Petraeus’ tenure (as well as before and after it.)

  6. Jockaira says

    It should be noted that the “teenage civilian US Citizen” was the nephew of the notorious Anwar al-Alawki and was present in a combat zone in the company of two of al-Alawki’s high-ranking officers who had been targeted as legitimate military targets by the legal Yemini government. The nephew himself had not been targeted: his death can realistically be termed collateral damage.

  7. Mano Singham says

    The US government is notorious for declaring that the people it killed were terrorists, without providing any evidence. Actually in this case, even the US government has not made such an assertion about the nephew and his companions, preferring to avoid the topic altogether. (See the book Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill.)

    Scahill’s book’s subtitle (The World as a Battlefield) pretty much says it all. The US government claims it has the right to murder anyone anywhere because the entire world is now considered a battlefield.

  8. colinhutton says

    Comments by both David Jones (#1) and Cotton (#3) are totally justified imo and deserve responses from Mano.

  9. Mano Singham says

    I am always amused at the degree of veneration with which high-level military officials are viewed by some. Recall how journalist Michael Hastings was vilified by even some other journalist for his Rolling Stone article about general Stanley McCrystal that resulted in him having to give up his command in Afghanistan. They did not question the accuracy of the article but that Hastings had dared to write less than glowingly about a ‘war hero’.

    So I am not surprised that even such a mildly critical post as this one drew the above criticisms. I am not in awe of David Petraeus. I thought that problems with some of his actions, such as this, were well known but it looks like I was mistaken. Like many top military people, they do not get there by virtue of battlefield prowess alone (and there are question about some of his reported successes) but by also being skilled political operators of the media and Congress and the Pentagon. Petraeus was reportedly one of the best at it and was notorious for his ambition. This does not mean that he was not a good soldier but it definitely means that he is not exempt from criticism.

  10. cotton says

    Is there a real counterargument in there? What irritates me about this is it plays right into the hoary image of “outrageous liberal” that conservatives (O’Reilly / Beck) try to paint all liberals with. What Singham wrote might as well have been a parody they wrote themselves. A retired US general accepted a well paid teaching position. Why is this outrageous? What does this deserve dripping contempt?

  11. cotton says

    I never argued he was exempt from criticism. It appears as though you are trying to dismiss my criticism of your post as blind eyed veneration of military officers. Nope. Criticisms that you make here are fine, I just rankle at some of what I felt were weak points in your original post. You really did chew into him for being a former general and accepting a job that paid well. This came across, to me, as thinly veiled contempt for someone who lead the US military, a body whose actions I don’t think you view favorably.

  12. colinhutton says

    I have read the articles you link to. They are opinion pieces containing vigourous, but reasonably nuanced, criticisms. I have no problem with their tone. Having regard to the sites, however, I see no reason for a presumption that they would be ‘well known’.

    The problem with your post is that it is barely (if at all) a criticism, much more so a mockery of some discomfit you perceive (rightly or wrongly) to have been experienced by Patreus.

    In this comment of yours it now seems to me that you are implying, if somewhat obliquely, that those of us criticising your post for the above reason fall in the (amusing to you) category of people who ‘venerate high-level military officials’. If so, the implication is unjustified.

  13. colnago80 says

    Aside from everything else, it should be noted that the general has a PhD in political science from Princeton so he would appear to have the educational qualifications to teach a course in the subject.

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